Wanted, in the rear view mirror

It's taken me many days after seeing Wanted at last week's opening night gala at the LA Film Festival to jot down my thoughts here, and that probably says enough. It wasn't fun enough to spur me to rave about it immediately, but to pick on Timur Bekmambetov's latest movie for thin to little character development or logic seems as insightful as grousing over the poor gas mileage in a Hummer. But still...

I saw Night Watch at the Tribeca Film Festival a couple years back, and I entered that movie and left that movie feeling the same things I felt going into and coming out of Wanted:

Going in: "Ooh, that looks like fun!"

Coming out: "Ehh."

Bekmambetov's specialty might be termed visual rococo. What might be simple and direct becomes, in Bekmambetov's hands, overelaborate and extravagant. There's a place for a director like that in this ever-escalating war for the summer blockbuster to end all summer blockbusters. In a movie about assassins, for example, it's not enough to have men in trenchcoats flying in slow motion across the screen, a handgun blazing in each hand, doves soaring out towards the sky like refugees from a magician's dressing room. John Woo has covered that ground, and then some.

Fanboys are always looking for new visual excess in their summer fare, and Bekmambetov and the screenwriters pull out a few new tricks. Bullets curve as shooters whip their guns with a lateral motion, almost like tennis rackets or frisbees, as they fire. Not one kill occurs in real time. The frame rate ramps from molasses-like slow motion to hyper speed, and back again, all the better to showcase bullets tearing through flesh and exploding fireworks of blood.

There's no doubting his visual ambition, but if only someone could bridle it towards the service of directed storytelling. I'd like to spoil the story for you, but that would imply that one existed. If the premise is tough to swallow even when explained in the arresting baritone of Morgan Freeman, that's a sign not to try. I'll only note that it involves binary code and weaving and an ancient league of assassins called The Fraternity and...oh, forget it. Did you know Angelina Jolie rises out of a hot tub in the nude? Not animated Angelina Jolie, either, like in Beowulf.

Jolie playing a foxy assassin named, well, Fox. Fortunately. She has few lines but spends much of the movie with the hint of what on most mortals would be called a smirk playing at the edge of her world class lips, but in her case it's either a hint of bemused delight at the wilting power of her sexuality on the men around her or some variation of the smile on the Mona Lisa. Watching her stride across the screen is like watching a tiger pacing or listening to the low growl of Italian sports car engine purring in first gear.

Perhaps it's fruitless to think a summer action movie can excel at engaging both the teenage groin and the adult brain, but then again, Angelina Jolie can go from sex symbol to human rights ambassador with one flight in her private jet. As Brad Pitt can attest, sometimes you can have it all.